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Finnish famine of 1866–1868: Wikis


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The Famine of 1866–1868 was the last famine in Finland and northern Sweden, and the last major naturally caused famine in Europe. In Finland the famine is known as "the great hunger years", or suuret nälkävuodet. About 15% of the entire population died; in the hardest-hit areas up to 20%. The total death toll was 270,000 in three years, about 150,000 in excess of normal mortality. The worst-hit areas were Satakunta, Tavastia, Ostrobothnia, and North Karelia.



Parts of the country had suffered poor harvests in previous years, most notably in 1862. The summer of 1866 was extremely rainy, and staple crops failed widely: potatoes and root vegetables rotted in the fields, and conditions for sowing grain in the autumn were unfavourable. When stored food ran out, thousands took to the roads to beg. The following winter was hard, and spring was late. In Helsinki, the average temperature in May 1867 was +1.8 °C, about 10 °C below the long-time average. In many places, lakes and rivers remained frozen until June. After a promisingly warm midsummer, freezing temperatures in early September ravaged crops; the harvest was about half the average. By the autumn of 1867, people were dying by the thousand.[1]

The government of the Grand Duchy of Finland was ill equipped to handle a crisis of such magnitude. There was no money readily available to import food, and the government was slow to recognize the severity of the situation. Finance minister Johan Vilhelm Snellman in particular did not want to borrow lest Finland's recently introduced currency, the Finnish markka be weakened; when money was finally borrowed from the Rothschild bank of Frankfurt in late 1867, the crisis was already in full blow, and grain prices had risen in Europe. Further, it was difficult to transport what little aid could be mustered in a country with poor communications. A number of emergency public works projects were set up, foremost among them the construction of the railway line from Riihimäki to Saint Petersburg.


The weather returned to normal in 1868 and that year's harvest was somewhat better than average, but contagious diseases spread in the previous year killed many more.

At that time Finnish economy was liberalized, which lead to increasing living standards, and no similar famines have thereafter occurred. Moreover, programs were launched afterwards to increase the diversity of Finnish agriculture, and rapidly improving communications and a growing industrial economy made a recurrence of the famine less likely. The people in general saw the famine to have been caused by an act of God. Few people would have expected the crown to be able to do much more, and no blame was directed mainly at local officials. No significant working class political movement had developed yet that could have capitalized politically on the crisis. The urban population was small, and for the people of the countryside, the first priority was to get back to normal. Thus the famine did not threaten the social order, but its memory cast a long shadow.



During this time period, thousands of Finns migrated to the United States to escape the crushing poverty. A majority of them settled in three areas. Massachusetts was a prime settlement area for unskilled laborers, as many young workers found employment in factories. In the upper Midwest, there is a region known as the "Finn-Loop" which includes the areas of Northeastern Minnesota, Northern Wisconsin, and the upper Peninsula of Michigan surrounding Lake Superior. Many people found work in mining, farming, forestry, shipping, and other trades commonly seen in Finland. Similar conditions were seen out west in Washington and Oregon and areas of Northern California, and in cities such as Aberdeen, Astoria, and Eureka.

See also


  1. ^ Gershwin, M. Eric; German, J. Bruce; Keen, Carl L. (2000). Nutrition and immunology: principles and practice. Humana Press. pp. 43. ISBN 0896037193.  


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